PCAT Prep: Two- and Four-Month Study Schedules

Students taking the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), the entrance exam for pharmacy school, can choose from an array of study methods: review books and prep courses, personal tutors and study groups.

While choosing a method that fits your learning style is important, it is all too easy for students to spend too much time spinning their wheels rather than engaging in focused preparation.

“If that book is going to do nothing more than hold your laptop computer 3 inches higher, don’t buy it,” said David McCaffrey III, Ph.D., assistant dean for student affairs at the St. John Fisher College Wegmans School of Pharmacy. “You have to use the resource.”

Below, St. John Fisher College’s online Pharm.D. program offers PCAT study schedules and advice on fully engaging with the content for students interested in pursuing pharmacy school and, ultimately, careers in pharmacy.

PCAT Prep: Before Registering

Develop deep learning strategies early.

In pre-pharmacy courses, be sure to master the topics that will appear on the PCAT. “The learn-and-purge strategy is not going to equate into a strong PCAT performance, because you won’t be able to draw on anything that you’ve been exposed to before,” McCaffrey said. Deeply learning the material from freshman year onward will not only give you a boost in PCAT studying but also strengthen your knowledge base for pharmacy school.

Complete PCAT registration after starting to study.

By registering after beginning preparations, you can approach the test with greater confidence, which McCaffrey believes results in the best performance.

Don’t let the last test be your first attempt.

Pearson, the organization that creates the PCAT, administers the test at specific times of the year:(PDF, 268KB) July, September, October/November, December, January, and February. Scheduling your first attempt earlier in the cycle gives you a cushion in case you want to take the PCAT again. “Plan for two [attempts] and hope for one,” McCaffrey said.

PCAT Prep: While Studying

Customize your study plan to your experience.

The amount of time a student should devote to studying varies by learning style and academic background. McCaffrey recommends students approach PCAT prep like any another class, or a three-credit course lasting one semester. This translates to nine hours of studying each week.

For students on a shorter time frame: Dr. Jeff Koetje, MD, PCAT adviser and director of pre-health programs at Kaplan Test Prep, recommends studying 10 to 15 hours per week and a total of 100 to 200 hours.

Choose one to two study tools.

There are multiple tools for PCAT prep, including books, tutors, online courses, and undergraduate study groups. No single method guarantees a strong score. “There’s no pre-professional curriculum in the country that matches the PCAT identically,” McCaffrey said. Focusing on just a couple study methods allows for a diversity of perspectives without becoming overwhelming.

Shift your thinking.

The PCAT requires more strategy than a typical test. “The trap that students fall into is that they approach something like the PCAT in the same manner that they would approach a midterm or final in one of their university classes,” Koetje said. Instead, prioritize developing critical thinking and reading skills, particularly by practicing passage-based questions.

Study the official test blueprint.

Pearson publishes an online guide to the PCAT that indicates how extensively each content area will be covered. Understanding the blueprint can help you strategize your studying for larger point gains. Focus where your weakest topics overlap with the highest potential gains.

Start with a diagnostic test.

Before reviewing any content, take a diagnostic test to figure out your strengths and identify areas to improve. This knowledge will help you customize your study plan to focus on less familiar topics.

Do practice problems.

Koetje recommends building practice problems into your content review over time. Start with discrete, stand-alone questions; next, move on to questions about a passage. Work up to completing a series of passages and questions, then to completing whole sections of the test under timed conditions. Eventually you will be ready to take a full practice test.

Take practice tests as you are ready — not too soon.

Your first practice test scores may be lower than your diagnostic test. “[This] happens frequently with students because that first full-length test is really the first time that they’re trying to put everything into practice, and they’re not masters of it yet,” Koetje said. Try not to panic and carry on with your PCAT study schedule.

How to Study for the PCAT

The PCAT is a comprehensive test that requires more time and strategy than a typical exam. For most students, a year of preparation would be excessive. Advisers suggest studying two to six months. Fisher Pharm.D. Online offers the following study plans as a general PCAT study timeline. They should be adjusted based on your academic background, areas of strength and opportunity. 

The two-month schedule is a more concentrated, fast-paced option, ideal for students on a semester break or summer vacation. For test-takers who are currently taking college courses or working, the four-month plan may be the better fit.

Also, be sure to factor rest into your schedule. Koetje advises students to study in two-hour chunks with a short break in between and to take one or two days off each week.

Two-Month PCAT Study Schedule

Week 1


Goals
  • Make a game plan.
  • Compile an equations list.
  • Study test-taking strategies.
  • Critical reading prep.
Game Plan
  1. Choose your study method(s): a PCAT prep course, review books, video tutorials. A PCAT-specific option is more efficient than reviewing course notes, which include far more material than the test will cover.
  2. Read through the test strategies section included in your review materials. Performing well on the test requires not only knowing the content but also knowing the test.
  3. Go through the critical reading section and complete a practice prompt.
  4. Make a list of the equations you will need to know for the test. Identify which ones you know and which are less familiar.

Week 2


Goals
  • Study Biological Processes I (BP I) and General Chemistry I (GC I).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes I and General Chemistry I.
  • BP I: cellular biology, metabolism and enzymes, evolution and genetics
  • GC I: periodic table, electrons, atomic theory and bonding, chemical reactions
  1. While reading, make a list of the concepts you’re unfamiliar with. Review them throughout the week, challenging yourself with practice problems. Remove topics from the list as you master them. Your goal is to finish the list.
  1. Study equations on your list related to these content areas. Seek related practice problems.

Week 3


Goals
  • Study Quantitative Reasoning I (QR I) and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry I (OCB I).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from Quantitative Reasoning I and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry I.
  • QR I: arithmetic, algebra, functions
  • OCB I: isomerism, substitution and elimination, substitution and addition
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review throughout the week, and remove them as you gain mastery. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 4

Goals
  • Take first practice test.
  • Study Biological Processes II (BP II) and General Chemistry II (GC II).
Game Plan
  1. Complete your first practice test, found in most PCAT review books or courses. Review the questions you missed. Resist the temptation to stay within the review books and seek out problems like these questions.
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes II and General Chemistry II.
  • BP II: microbiology, digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory, skeletal and muscular systems
  • GC II: equilibrium, solutions, acids and bases, kinetic theory
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 5


Goals
  • Study Quantitative Reasoning II (QR II) and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry II (OCB II).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from Quantitative Reasoning II and Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry II.
  • QR II: probability and statistics, precalculus, calculus
  • OCB II: isomerism, substitution and elimination, substitution and addition
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review, remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 6


Goals
  • Take second practice test.
  • Review topics from Biological Processes III (BP III).
Game Plan
  1. Complete your second practice test. Focus on the questions missed — specifically those that overlap with the first practice test — and seek related practice problems.
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes III, including endocrine system, nervous system, immune system, excretory system
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review, remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 7


Goals
  • Take third practice test.
  • Review topics from Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry III.
Game Plan
  1. Complete your third practice test and review results. Focus on missed questions, particularly those that overlap with previous tests.
  1. Review topics from Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry III, including spectroscopy and lipids, amino acids, proteins, DNA and RNA.
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review, remove. Study relevant equations and practice problems.

Week 8


Goals
  • Begin final preparations.
  • Take final practice test (optional).
  • Rest.
Game Plan
  1. Finalize studying for critical reading and review PCAT test strategies. The week before your PCAT test, take time to rest.

Four-Month PCAT Study Schedule

Week 1


Goals
  • Make a game plan.
  • Compile equations list.
Game Plan
  1. Choose your study method(s): a PCAT prep course, review books, video tutorials. A PCAT-specific option is more efficient than reviewing course notes, which include far more material than the test will cover.
  1. Make a list of equations you will need to know for the test. Identify which ones you know and which are less familiar.

Week 2


Goals
  • Study test-taking strategies.
  • Critical reading prep.
Game Plan
  1. Read through the test strategies section in your review materials. Performing well on the test requires not only knowing the content but also knowing the test.
  1. Go through the critical reading section and complete a practice prompt.

Week 3


Goals
  • Study Biological Processes I (BP I).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes I, including cellular biology, metabolism and enzymes, evolution and genetics.
  1. While reading, make a list of unfamiliar concepts. Review them throughout the week, challenging yourself with practice problems. Remove topics from the list as you master them. Your goal is to finish the list.
  1. Study equations on your list related to these content areas. Seek related practice problems.

Week 4


Goals
  • Study General Chemistry I (GC I).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from General Chemistry I, including periodic table, electrons, atomic theory and bonding, chemical reactions.
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review throughout the week, and remove as you gain mastery. Study equations relevant to these content areas and seek practice problems.

Week 5


Goals
  • Study Quantitative Reasoning I (QR I).
Game Plan

Review topics from Quantitative Reasoning I, including arithmetic, algebra, functions. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review throughout the week, and remove as you gain mastery. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 6


Goals
  • Study Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry I (OCB I).
Game Plan

Review topics related to Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry I, including isomerism, substitution and elimination, substitution and addition. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review throughout the week, and remove as you gain mastery. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 7


Goals
  • Take first practice test.
Game Plan

Complete your first practice test, found in most PCAT review books or courses. Review the questions you missed. Resist the temptation to stay within the review books and seek problems like these questions.

Week 8


Goals
  • Study Biological Processes II (BP II) and General Chemistry II (GC II).
Game Plan
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes II and General Chemistry II.
  • BP II: microbiology, digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory, skeletal and muscular systems
  • GC II: equilibrium, solutions, acids and bases, kinetic theory
  1. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 9


Goals
  • Study Quantitative Reasoning II (QR II).
Game Plan

Review topics from Quantitative Reasoning II, including probability and statistics, precalculus, calculus. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 10


Goals
  • Study Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry II (OCB II).
Game Plan

Review topics from Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry II, including isomerism, substitution and elimination, substitution and addition. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study equations relevant to these content areas and seek out practice problems.

Week 11-12


Goals
  • Take second practice test.
  • Review topics from Biological Processes III (BP III).
Game Plan
  1. Complete your second practice test. Focus on the questions missed — specifically those that overlap with the first practice test — and seek related practice problems.
  1. Review topics from Biological Processes III, including the endocrine system, nervous system, immune system, excretory system. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study relevant equations and seek practice problems.

Week 13-14


Goals
  • Take third practice test.
  • Review topics from Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry III.
Game Plan
  1. Complete your third practice test and review results. Focus on missed questions, particularly those that overlap with previous tests.
  1. Review topics from Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry III, including spectroscopy and lipids, amino acids, proteins, DNA and RNA. Make a list of unfamiliar concepts, review and remove. Study equations relevant to these content areas and seek out practice problems.

Week 15-16


Goals
  • Begin final preparations.
  • Take final practice test (optional).
  • Rest.
Game Plan

Finalize studying for critical reading and review PCAT test strategies. The week before your PCAT test, take time to rest.

What to Expect on Your PCAT Test Date

McCaffrey advises test-takers not to enter the test center until they are ready to begin; if there are open seats, you will be started on the test, even if it is before your start time.

On your PCAT test date, keep in mind:

  • You will go through security entering the test center.
  • Other students with earlier start times may already be taking the PCAT when you arrive.
  • As you enter, you may see students with earlier start times already taking the PCAT.
  • The test is computer-based.
  • At the end, you will receive a preliminary score report; students receive official PCAT scores once the writing samples have been graded.

Low-Cost PCAT Prep

Though some study methods can be costly, preparing for the PCAT does not need to be expensive to be effective. For example, it is possible to compile a full PCAT curriculum of online video tutorials.

McCaffrey suggests looking into:

  • Pre-health clubs, which may offer informal PCAT study groups.
  • Free massive open online courses (MOOCs), such as Coursera and Khan Academy.
  • YouTube tutorials.
  • Libraries, which may have review books to check out.
  • Upper division students and current PharmD students who have already taken the PCAT.

Citation for this content: St. John Fisher College’s online Pharm.D. program from the Wegmans School of Pharmacy